Wicked Little Letters | Picturehouse Recommends

A 1920s English seaside town bears witness to a dark and absurd scandal in this riotous mystery comedy starring Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley.

Helen O'Hara

23 Feb 24

Thea Sharrock

Release Date
23 February


Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Malachi Kirby, Eileen Atkins, Timothy Spall, Anjana Vasan, Hugh Skinner, Lolly Adefope


Running Time
102 mins

At the heart of Wicked Little Letters is a delicious proposition. Who doesn't want to see two of the classiest, most respected female actors working today – one Oscar winner, one Oscar nominee – swearing at each other in increasingly creative ways while sporting period movie finery?

Thea Sharrock's down-and-dirty but delightful comedy reunites Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley, following Maggie Gyllenhaal's The Lost Daughter (although they never appeared on screen together). It pits them against each other as polar-opposite neighbours and just sits back and lets the comedy sparks fly.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Wicked Little Letters is that it is based on a true story. The nifty premise is built on a compelling question: just who is sending the poison pen letters that are scandalising the small seaside town of Littlehampton, just after Easter in 1920?

Edith Swan (Colman) is a deeply respectable, extremely conservative single woman who cares for her elderly parents and lives as a pillar of the community. The action starts with Edith receiving the 19th letter– a missive full of vile name calling – as her domineering father Edward (Timothy Spall) and timid mother (Gemma Jones) look on.

The most obvious suspect is next-door neighbour Rose Gooding (Buckley), an Irish immigrant and worse, a single mother. She and daughter Nancy (Alisha Weir) and new boyfriend Bill (Malachi Kirby) are therefore on the outskirts of respectable society – not helped by Rose's casual swearing and generally free-spirited approach to life.

As well as being full of hilarious one-liners, Jonny Sweet's screenplay also delivers a terrific small-town whodunnit element, as the community tries to figure out who is behind the letter campaign. Although all fingers point to Rose, some, including police officer Gladys Moss (We Are Lady Parts' Anjana Vasan)– the very first woman on the force and someone who is used to being judged on appearances – doubt Rose's guilt.

What follows is a wild and hilarious story about suspicion, prejudice, reputation and fury, played out by some of the UK's finest actors. Around Colman and Buckley is a superb supporting cast who each get a moment to shine. Alongside the ever-reliable Timothy Spall, you have Gemma Jones (Sense And Sensibility), Joanna Scanlan (After Love), Malachi Kirby (Small Axe: Mangrove), Lolly Adefope (Ghosts) and Jason Watkins (The Crown).

The film shares DNA with Yorgos Lanthimos' The Favourite (for which Colman won her Oscar) in the way it injects an irreverent, irrepressible feel into the trappings of the period drama.

First and foremost, Wicked Little Letters is a scabrous, laugh-out-loud comedy but there are big ideas underlying this story, themes of sexism and misogyny as well as the power of rumour. It's a tale that has more relevance than ever in our own era of internet trolling and delicate online reputations.

Of course, the chief joy of Wicked Little Letters is watching Colman and Buckley go at it, fully committing to the coarse language and the film's deeply caustic tone. Colman teases out the underlying sadness in what could be a one-note uptight character, while Buckley is having a blast, injecting Rose with a similar spirit she brought to (aptly enough) Wild Rose.

Together, they are a delight and deliver something you didn't know you needed: an immaculately made costume drama with added f-bombs.
  Helen O'Hara

You'll like this

If you enjoyed these films

The Favourite


See How They Run


The Banshees of Inisherin


Pick up a copy of Picturehouse Recommends at a Picturehouse Cinema near you, or become a Member.

Wicked Little Letters is in cinemas from 23 Feb Book Now!